The Toyota Mirai is already available to order in Japan, and arrives in Europe and the US in summer 2015. The first few examples arrived in the UK on the second week of August to prepare for the model's official launch in September.
Toyota says the showroom price for Western markets has yet to be decided, partly because it does not know what, if any, government subsidies will be available for the Mirai. It has suggested that it will cost around €66,000 plus local taxes in Europe. This will work out at an on-sale price of around £60,000 in the UK.
It is a standalone five-door, four-seat hatchback model that offers a boot capacity of around 360 litres. Final specification for Europe is not yet confirmed, but it is expected to come with climate control, a rear parking camera, satellite-navigation, LED headlights and man-made leather upholstery. The safety kit is likely to include a pre-crash system, an adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-change assist.
Initial demand for the Mirai has meant Toyota has announced its plans to increase production over the coming years. The company will produce around 700 Mirais this year, followed by around 2000 in 2016 and approximately 3000 in 2017. The increase has come as a result of initial sales success in Japan - around 1500 orders were placed in the first month of the car being available. The increase in production is also to cope with the planned launch in the USA and Europe later this year.
Initially, just 11 cars are heading for the UK, being handed over to select fleet customers for assessment. It is expected that as many as 50 cars will be imported to the UK in 2016.
This is a similar strategy adopted by Toyota with the UK launch of the original Prius in late-2000, where initial imports were in small numbers. President and Managing Director of Toyota GB, Paul Van der Burgh confirmed the plan, admitting that it is not expecting an overnight success.
"We're on a learning curve" he admitted. "The infrastructure has to grow and the expectation is, that by getting real experience on that we will get faster. We do see it (Mirai) as a car of the future and we do expect exponential growth to happen, but before that we need the right conditions. The infrastructure is not there at the moment, but if you wait for the infrastructure, you'll never learn anything.
"You need government and our infrastructure partners aligned with what we are trying to do. In Japan, for example, hydrogen has had huge support, and that has allowed the technology to accelerate."
The Mirai is the culmination of two decades of research from Toyota. The production version of the saloon car, which seats four and offers a range of 300 miles from its twin high-pressue hydrogen tanks (700bar/70MPa) stored under the floor, was revealed at the recent Paris motor show
The hydrogen tanks fuel a fuel cell, which powers a permanent magnet electric motor to drive the front wheels. The Mirai emits only water vapour at the tailpipe. Power for the system is understood to be around 135bhp, Toyota making comparisons to a typical petrol-engined family saloon, and a refuel of the hydrogen tanks takes around three minutes.
The most recent concept version was at the Tokyo motor show in 2013, and the production version has stayed remarkably similar to it.
Toyota believes it can popularise hydrogen as a fuel just as it has pioneered hybrid technology in the past 16 years. However, there is a small but very vocal opposition in the US to the adoption of hydrogen as a fuel because much of today’s hydrogen is made by ‘steam reforming’ methane gas. Tesla boss Elon Musk has already called fuel cells “a load of rubbish”.